Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 14, 2017
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Capital playground

Kids will love Washington, DC — from the motorcades on up

It’s a funny thing about government towns — they might not be the most alluring for adults, but they are usually pretty good for kids. Guess it’s the combination of government hours, disposable income, people coming from all over the country, and being in a place where you can legislate for a new museum or park if you think your little darlings will enjoy it.

Ottawa is like that. It has great museums for a city its size and, of course, a whacking long ice rink. So too does Washington, DC.

Of course the most fun thing for a five year old in Washington is watching a lights-and-sirens motorcade. You get a lot of those — sometimes, if you’re really lucky, with helicopter escorts. But even if you don’t catch a President on a commute, there are lots of other fun, affordable and even free things for families to do.

But first you need to find a place to stay. Lately while travelling, I’ve been foregoing hotels in favour of renting self-contained apartments with their own kitchenettes. This particularly makes sense if you have voracious, messy junior(s) with you.

My first stop on the apartment hunt is usually www.Tripadvisor.com . If you search under the name of the city you are going to, then select “B&Bs/Inns” and “specialty lodging,” you can get an overview of what is available, with reviews. That’s where I found a lovely studio in the centre of Washington for US$500 for a week.

Once in town, getting around is easy. There is a good Metro service (tel: 202-637-7000; www.wmata.com) and, if the kids are older, there are pick-up/drop-off SmartBike stations (tel: 800-899-4449; www.smartbikedc.com) conveniently located around town. It costs US$40 to get an annual membership (give it at least two weeks to process before your trip), and then you can take the bikes for up to three hours at a time for free.

If you like walking, but don’t like finding your own way, there is a great 90-minute, free, family-friendly walking tour from DC by Foot (tel: 202-370-1830; www.dcbyfoot.com) of some of the main monuments near the White House.

Now, what to visit? There are lots of public and private museums in Washington. You can tell them apart by the admission charge. The public ones tend not to have one. The private ones can be pricey. The fun, private International Spy Museum (tel: 202-393-7798; www.spymuseum.org) for example, is US$18 for adults. Though CIA employees get a discount.

The free public museums have more than enough to offer, starting with the Smithsonian (tel: 202-633-1000; www.si.edu). The Smithsonian is the sort of grand institution that ends up in capital cities. It is made up of 19 museums and the National Zoo. Almost all are free, with free tours. Sometimes called the “nation’s attic,” the collections include everything from Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz to the Apollo 11 command module.

If you want to feel like you are getting out of town, take a short bus/taxi ride to the unique family adventure that is Glen Echo Park (tel: 301-634-2222; www.glenechopark.org). It was Washington’s main amusement park from the early 1900s to the late 1960s. After, it was taken over by the National Parks Services, and is now run by an arty non-profit.

Glen Echo is for people who like their amusements old school — in a good way. There is a magnificent hand-carved 1920s carousel that moves in time to a 1926 Wurlitzer band organ complete with perforated paper rolls and 256 wooden pipes and, among others, a glockenspiel, flageolet and cymbal.

It may not be the magic of the sirens of a motorcade, but it’ll do.

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